Declaration of Independence: First Newport printing by Solomon Southwick facsimile
American independence was far from inevitable in the summer of 1776. On June 7, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented a resolution for independence to the Second Continental Congress. The resolution was composed as a reaction to the years of British imposition on the American colonies; in recent years, numerous laws had limited colonists' ability to influence their own government. Resistance to many of these acts led King George III to declare his North American subjects to be in a state of rebellion. Many delegates still hoped for reconciliation with Britain, however, and the vote on Lee's resolution was postponed for three weeks.
On June 11, Congress recessed and asked the Committee of Five (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman) to draft a statement that would be considered when the delegates reconvened. Jefferson wrote this draft, and Adams and Franklin edited it. On July 1, Jefferson's Declaration of Independence was presented to Congress. By July 2, the Lee Resolution was passed, bolstered by the powerful message contained in Jefferson's writing. On July 4, the Declaration itself was adopted. Copies were sent to every colonial assembly, the Continental Army, King George III, and other countries throughout the world. The Declaration of Independence soon appeared in cities as distant as Warsaw and Florence.
The first printing of the Declaration of Independence took place in Philadelphia on July 4 by John Dunlop, the official printer for the Continental Congress (The Historical Society of Pennsylvania holds Dunlop's original printer's proof). On July 6, a copy was sent to the Governor of Rhode Island. Using this copy, Solomon Southwick printed and distributed the first Newport edition of the Declaration. Only six original copies still exist.